The best way to understand how to successfully manage an online patient community is to participate in one. Be a voyeur. Watch. Listen. Observe. And it doesn’t have to be a patient community; any online community will do. My daughter is a freshman at the College of Charleston and my wife and I have used the parents forum to get acclimated and learn important details about campus life (teenagers aren’t always good about sharing important information). As someone who moderates online communities professionally, participating in the online forum at College of Charleston has been an education. It has also been an affirming experience.
What I admire most about the people who manage the community and moderate the conversation is the patience and kindness with which they deal with worried, aggravated, and frustrated helicopter parents. As an observer, I am stunned by the mundane questions parents post on the forum. “Where is the bus station located in Charleston?” “How can my child get from the airport to their dorm?” “When is fall break?” Most questions could be answered in 10 seconds if the individual used Google or simply visited the College of Charleston website. And people keep asking the same questions over and over, rather than taking a second to review old conversations on the forum.
But the group moderators deal with the questions in a positive and helpful manner, never showing frustration. They are respectful and never cast judgment on the individual asking the mundane question. That’s exactly what it takes to be a successful online community manager.
Another element that contributes to the success of the community is the cohort of parents (two or three) who consistently chime in with helpful advice for the parents posting questions. I don’t know if these are paid Ambassadors or just extremely kind and helpful individuals. Whatever their status, they are the informal group leaders and familiar voices that can be counted upon to share their knowledge. Every successful online community has these leaders who step up and take it upon themselves to keep things moving in a positive and helpful direction.
Oh, and by the way, they talk about healthcare on the forum and parents ask for physician recommendations. This happens quite often. And it happens at nearly every college and university in America! Here’s one example looking for two specialists:
Check out this response to a parent’s request for recommendations for an orthopedic surgeon. The response is coming from a fellow parent who took the time to compile all the information below:
Just as an aside, College of Charleston also has a family blog that I’ve found to be an excellent resource.